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What are fungi?


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The fungi kingdom contains mushrooms but also yeasts, rusts, smuts, mildews and molds. Fungi are among the most widely distributed organisms on Earth and are of great environmental and medical importance. Many fungi are free-living in soil or water; others form parasitic or symbiotic relationships with plants or animals.

How do they differ from plants or animals?
Fungi are eukaryotic organisms; i.e., their cells contain membrane-bound organelles and clearly defined nuclei. Historically, fungi were included in the plant kingdom; however, because fungi lack chlorophyll and are distinguished by unique structural and physiological features (i.e., components of the cell wall and cell membrane), they have been separated from plants. In addition, fungi are clearly distinguished from all other living organisms, including animals, by their principal modes of vegetative growth and nutrient intake. Fungi grow from the tips of filaments (hyphae) that make up the bodies of the organisms (mycelia), and they digest organic matter externally before absorbing it into their mycelia.

The Latin word for mushroom, fungus (plural fungi), has come to stand for the whole group. Similarly, the study of fungi is known as mycology—a broad application of the Greek word for mushroom, ‘mykēs’.

• There is no ‘true’ difference between mushrooms and toadstools, except people tend to call edible fungi ‘mushrooms’ and poisonous or toxic ones ‘toadstools’.
• When picking fungi, ideally use a knife to harvest. Sometimes the base of the fungus can be a key factor in identification, for example Amanita species have a volva which can be hidden with soil. Picking a mushroom is like picking an apple from a tree – the main body of the fungus is the mycelium which tends to live underground. It is a myth that if you don’t cut it, you are damaging or destroying it – more damage is done by footfall.
• Fungi species need to be kept separate from each other in case there is a toxic one in the batch. Fungi can contaminate other fungi.
• There are no rules of thumb that tell you whether a fungus is safe or not, so for example you can’t tell if a fungus is safe or not by its gill colour.
• Only eat fungi when you are 100% sure what it is – consult a good guide, ask an expert, be certain and be safe.

• Where it is growing – field, specific tree species, dead wood, etc?
• What time of year you find it?
• Does it have a smell?
• What colour is it?
• Does it have a volva (egg shaped sac from which the stem grows)?
• What do the gills look like?
• Spore print?
• Cap size?
• Does it bruise when cut or pressed?
• Does it have a ring on the stem?

Once you have checked through all of these and it points at one specific edible fungus, then try it in small quantities as you may be allergic to it.

• Chanterelles– Cantharellus cibarius, winter chants – Cantharellus tubaeformis
• Ceps, Boletes (penny buns) – Boletus sp., Suillus sp., Leccinum sp.
• Puffballs – Lycoperdon sp., Calvatia sp., Bovista sp.
• Shaggy Inkcap – Coprinus comatus
• Deceivers and Amethyst deceivers – Laccaria laccata, Laccaria ivulose e
• Chicken of the woods – Laetiporus sulphureus
• Oyster mushrooms – Pleurotus ostreatus
• Wood Blewits – Lepista sp.
• Field Mushrooms – Agaricus campestris
• Horse Mushrooms – Agaricus arvensis
• Parasols – Macrolepiota procera
• Morels – Morchella esculenta
• St George’s mushroom – Calocybe gambosa
• Dryad’s Saddle – Polyporus squamosus
• Horn of Plenty – Craterellus cornucopioides
• Jelly Ear – Auricularia auricula-judae
• Honey Fungus (only the cooked cap) – Armillaria mellea
• Velvet Shank – Flammulina velutipes
• Hedgehog Fungus – Hydnum repandum
• Beefsteak Fungus – Fistulina hepatica
• Saffron Milk Cap – Lactarius deliciosus
• Fairy Ring Champignons – Marasmius oreades
• Cauliflower Fungus – Sparassis crispa
• Truffles – Tuber aestivum, Tuber melanosporum

• Death Cap – Amanita phalloides
• Destroying Angel – Amanita virosa
• Webcaps – Cortinarius sp.
• Panther Cap – Amanita pantherina
• Fly Agaric – Amanita muscaria*
• False Morel – Gyromitra esculenta
• Fool’s Funnel – Clitocybe rivulosa
• Devil’s Bolete – Boletus satanus
• Yellow Stainer – Agaricus xanthodermus
• Jack O’ Lantern – Omphalatus olearius
• Sulphur Tuft – Hypholoma fasciculare
Funeral bell – Galerina marginata
Fool’s conecap – Pholiotina rugosa
Angel’s wings – Pleurocybella porrigens

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